TAMPA, Fla. — A potential vaccine for COVID-19 is a sign of hope for many, including long term care facilities.
Federal and state leaders have emphasized frontline healthcare workers and long-term care facility residents should be prioritized once a vaccine is available. Right now, they’re preparing for when doses may be headed to them.
“It’s the best tool to be able to keep them safe and certainly going to be the easiest way for them to get back to some semblance of normalcy because it’s been very difficult for them over the last several months and trying to keep them safe from COVID. So we really see this as a shining star of hope for all of our residents and staff,” said Bonnie Williamson, the assistant director of compliance for SenCare Management.
The company operates Grand Villa Senior Living communities throughout Florida, including 18 assisted living communities.
“There’s been quite a few webinars over the last couple weeks with CVS, Walgreens, the DOH, AHCA, everybody’s really joining together to make sure that everybody is prepared because as soon as that approval comes everybody’s going to have to move very, very fast,” Williamson said.
Right now, preparation includes educating residents and gauging who’s interested in receiving a vaccine.
“Then it’s just gonna be a matter of setting up a space for CVS and Walgreens to be able to do the actual vaccination process,” said Williamson. “We do flu vaccines and other vaccines all year long so that process will be pretty easy.”
Administering influenza shots through the health department was a good test run for Luis Collazo, the administrator for Palm Breeze Assisted Living Facility in Hialeah and the immediate past chair of the Florida Assisted Living Association.
“We’re eager to receive the vaccine,” Collazo said.
He said he’s confident about 95 percent of the residents would get a COVID vaccine.
“The influenza for us was a good test run. The other thing is we’ve been talking to our residents, educating them the vaccine is going to be available shortly. So a lot of them are anticipating them,” he said.
Throughout the state, long term care facilities had to enroll in the CDC Pharmacy Partnership for Long-Term Care Program, in which the agency is partnering with CVS and Walgreens to provide on-site vaccination services.
The Florida Health Care Association, an advocacy organization that represents nursing homes, says facilities are starting to hear from pharmacy representatives.
“We’re preparing for that right now. So basically that means looking at your building, what type of space you have to make sure you can set up enough space, social distancing, you know, the COVID precautionary measures you would typically do when you have people coming in to your buildings. They’re gathering their roster of residents, identifying residents who might have a healthcare representative who would need to consent for them to receive the vaccine and a lot of what is going on right now too is just education,” said Kristen Knapp, the director of communications for the FHCA.
The facilities have been a focus throughout the pandemic as residents, their families and staff have dealt with cases and isolation.
“Those facilities are important for two reasons. One, the highest number of deaths in the state has occurred in that population in the nursing home population and that age group. And the workers in those facilities have been those most affected they get it they bring it in and they pass it on then they bring it home they give it to their families then you have community spread so those are thought to be incredibly high-risk point sources if you will of control for the disease,” Dr. Jay Wolfson, a senior associate dean of the Morsani College of Medicine at the University of South Florida.
When long term care facilities could receive doses and how many doses they could receive is something many facilities don’t know yet.
An FDA advisory committee will meet Wednesday to consider Pfizer’s COVID19 vaccine for emergency authorization use.
Governor Ron Desantis said frontline healthcare workers and long term care residents are a top priority in the state, once a vaccine is approved.
Five major hospital systems with the storage capability will be sent vaccines.
“You’re gonna have 100,000 directed to the hospitals, then you’re gonna have 80,000 directed to basically CVS, Walgreens who are contracted going to long term care facilities. I have National Guard mobilized, and we're ready to go and administer doses in some of these counties, if they're not ready right off the bat, because we think it's important,” the Desantis said.
He noted it will be a large logistical undertaking, though.
“We’ve basically planned, we hope we get it soon, we’re ready to go, maybe there’s a delay, who knows,” said the Governor.
“This is equivalent to some of the most complex programs that we initiated during WWII and the technical, strategic details in making this work are incredibly complex and dependent on lots of pieces working together over a fairly long period of time so we have a lot to be proud of but we have an awful lot of work ahead of us,” said Wolfson.
Wolfson noted Florida was one of four states to develop a pilot distribution project in August, so it’s been modeled and mocked out already.
But he said people cannot become complacent in mitigation efforts. Compliance with essential public health behavioral practices will still be critical.
“We are far from being out of the woods because we already know even with using this vaccine for this high-risk population, in Hillsborough County alone we expect to see 5,000 cases a day by the second week of January, 15,000 cases a day for all of Tampa Bay,” Wolfson said. “The vaccine for the general population really isn’t going to be made available and distributed until sometime in March, April or May and because of the high rate of people who are saying they don’t want to take it we have to overcome that obstacle, which we will through public relations.”